By Olivier Meier, Mercer
A few years ago, Klaus Schwab from the World Economic Forum coined the neologism “talentism” to describe the primacy of talent over capital. The shortage of specific skills, ongoing cost pressure, and the disruptions brought to the workplace by new technologies have only increased the need to manage talent proactively. More generally, talent pools need to be reassessed to integrate new sources of talent.
The business case behind talent pools
In a broad sense your talent pool is the source of talent designed to support a company’s growing activities. In practice it refers to a database of current and potential future candidates. To manage a talent pool effectively it is important to:
- Find talent with skills in high demand. It facilitates talent sourcing in a context of talent scarcity and workforce upskilling.
- Speed up talent sourcing. The question of candidate availability has to be combined with the speed of finding and onboarding talent. The purpose of a talent pool is not just about finding a candidate but about appointing someone suitable quickly.
- Control costs. A wider talent pool means more choices and potentially an opportunity to reduce costs. Conversely, a small number of potential candidates can drive higher costs.
- Benefit from diversity. A wider and more diverse talent pool is better equipped to find new ways of thinking and adapt to a diverse customer base.
- Be responsive to change and new business requirements. In a context of uncertainty (which skills will be critical in the future?), the notions of “high potential” and “high performance” are subject to debate. This necessitates a wider talent pool of potential candidates to respond to different scenarios and unexpected changes.
Expanding talent pools
Organizations needs to move beyond just building talent (i.e. training, reskilling, or upskilling talent) and buying talent (recruit individuals or acquire companies). Talent managers should consider adding more options to their toolbox.
Talent exchange: With service providers who are acting as extended part of the internal workforce but also with suppliers and clients. The exchange increases the skill level across the value chain and improves the cooperation between all stakeholders.
Co-opetition (working with competitors and peer companies): For topics of common interest. In the case of international expansion, this could be about providing support and services to mobile employee in a specific location where there are only limited infrastructures. It could also be about increasing skills and develop new talent pools to benefit the whole industry sector. Competition exists also between industries and maintaining the attractiveness of a specific sector can be as important as maintaining the appeal of the company itself.
Freelancers/gig workers/contractors: Leverage talent on demand and rely on highly skilled and mobile professionals willing to market themselves globally. This is an opportunity for companies to access talent and skills that are not available in-house or would be difficult to recruit. It can be also a challenge, as highly qualified gig workers are in high demand and attracting them can be a difficult and costly exercise.
Bringing back talent
Retired talent: 75% of employees plan to work past retirement age. From a talent perspective, ensuring the inclusion of older workers, prolonging their participation to the workforce, or bringing them back from retirement for specific projects is a useful weapon in the talent strategy arsenal. Achieving a balance between generations is part of the diversity objective and an important step to address talent shortages – especially in cyclical industries like energy or pharma. During downturns in the cycle, fewer experts and engineers are trained and when the activity picks up again, this results in severe talent shortages.
Former employees: Many companies go to great lengths to maintain a link with their alumni. Changing jobs frequently is the new norm and the stigma associated with rejoining a company is gradually disappearing. In addition to constituting an important talent sourcing option for the company, alumni can be the best ambassadors of the company. In particular, international assignments create situations where the companies cannot guarantee a job upon repatriation, or where assignees prefer to stay in the host location or move to another non-business essential location. Carefully managing the departure of these employees and keeping a link with them leaves the door open for future cooperation.
Accompanying spouses: The inability of employees’ spouses to find work in the host location is one of the greatest barriers to geographical mobility. Spouses of assignees might have to stop or slow down their careers. Offering them a chance to work during the assignment or helping them rejoin the workforce upon repatriation is a win-win scenario for assignees and companies. It can also help attain the diversity objective by increasing the participation of women in the mobile global workforce. And it’s not just about women: the number of men in the accompanying spouse group is bound to increase as more women join the internationally mobile workforce.
Unlocking diversity (increasing participation of women, older employees, and minorities): Unlocking diversity is about reflecting on policies and see how to incentivize people to start working again or be candidate for a specific position or an international move. An example would be women who took break in their career for family reasons and want to rejoin the workforce. Women and candidates from some minority group often dismiss themselves due to the lack of perceived support and role models.
Unlocking talent mobility: Traditional barriers to geographical mobility including family issues, and cost considerations can be overcome by adopting new forms of mobility: moving jobs to people, commuters, virtual assignment. Unlocking mobility can also be increasing the acceptance of lateral moves between job functions. The future of work is about bringing down boundaries between departments and avoiding siloed careers.
Hybrid jobs: Companies increasingly look for hybrid profiles – i.e. candidates with experience in different departments like IT and management or marketing and finance. If the requirements go too far, recruitment becomes too complex and companies fall in the trap of the “purple squirrel syndrome”. The concept of “purple squirrel” comes from the recruiting industry and is used to deride unreasonable expectations from companies who are looking for the perfect candidates with the perfect combination of education, experience and skills for a given job. Redefining talent is about reassessing requirements and avoid rigid job descriptions that could eliminate unconventional profiles.
Reconsider how to assess qualifications and reskill talent: Gamification and other forms of skills assessment can be used to find new sources of talent by allowing candidates to demonstrate their potential. This is especially important in an international context when the validity of formal qualifications from candidates (e.g. from emerging economies) might be hard to assess. Other candidates might not have the usual formal qualification for a given job but have the potential to get up to speed quickly based on their past experience in a different industry or function.
Alternative to talent
Crowdsourcing expertise: Could the wisdom of the crowd help replace talent for specific tasks? Crowdsourcing could be a solution to find information but also to solves problems. The model is used by researchers and some innovative companies. Crowdsourcing might not fully replace talent but can support existing talent.
Automation: 60% of companies plans to automate more in 2019, and automation is becoming one of the main resourcing options. Defining a working model where machine and humans worked side by side will likely prove more complex than the original distinction between basic tasks handled by robots and complex tasks reserved for humans. As AI is becoming capable of addressing much more complex tasks, robots should be viewed not just as passive complements to the workforce but as one of the components of the extended talent pool.
Curating talent pools
Expanding your talent pool is only the first step. The talent pool needs to be actively managed going forward:
- Maintain your talent pool database and refresh the information. In other words, keep track of potential candidates, their evolution and newly acquired skills.
- Communicate regularly about new developments and opportunities. Don’t communicate only when you need to fill a position. Think of it as an ongoing exercise designed to maintain the employer’s brand and overall attractiveness of the company. What are the channels to communicate with internal and external contacts in your talent pool? What message can your send about not only current opportunities but also success stories, role models and work/lifestyle inspiration?
- Develop an evidence-based assessment of the different options. Understanding the options available is not sufficient without an analysis of the impact of each of them. Only one-third of companies currently use talent analytics to determine the impact of making build, buy, borrow, or automatize talent decisions on performance outcomes. This impact should be monitored on an on-going basis as business requirements will evolve with markets changes.
- Segment and individualize. Bear in mind that segmentation is not about building rigid barriers between talent groups. Talent and careers are more fluid than even before and mobility between jobs and functions should be encouraged. Assigning a talent to a specific group is just a reflection on the current status of a person and should not be a permanent label that could restrict opportunities for that employee and the company in the future.
Individualization stems from two issues: the limit of traditional segmentation models and the need to differentiate communication – i.e. the policies/rules applied to employees might be the same but the way they are communicated should be different to reflect the priorities of the different groups (or “persona”/archetypes).
- Mind the gaps when dealing with succession planning. An efficient succession planning process is a critical component of strategic workforce planning, but even the best process can be disrupted by unexpected business changes. A good example of a gap emerging might be the results of successive international moves. Mobile talent might not be tracked globally by a specific HR team and might fall in the cracks – highly mobile employees (geographically and between functions) commonly experience this and soon realize that their past experiences or acquired skills are not valued. Efficiently managing a talent pool means that these gaps need to be eliminated as much as possible.
- Manage the ebb and flow of talent. The old model talent management is linear: i.e. hiring, employing, and ultimately separating from a person. The current work environment is about managing talent joining, leavin,g and rejoining the organization. These different steps might be done under different status (in-house employee or free lancers). Managing talent pool effectively is ultimately about mastering this ebb and flow of diverse and mobile talent.